When Saturday comes for mother-of-two Julia Dallyn, it can only mean one thing: parkrun.
Since graduating from Couch to 5K (C25K), parkrun's free, weekly 5km timed runs have become a permanent fixture for the Bristolian.
Apart from losing weight and helping her to de-stress after a busy week as a nurse, running has had the unexpected benefit of bringing her closer to her adolescent son Leon, who has also developed a taste for running thanks to C25K.
“When we started running, he would open up as we had no interruptions and he wasn't attached to a computer,” says Julia, who goes by the name Juicyju on the C25K forum.
How did you hear about parkrun?
I first heard about parkrun after joining the C25K community four weeks into the running programme. My big plan after finishing C25K was to do the 5K+ Stepping Stones podcast for C25K graduates and then start parkrun. I found a local one on the internet, signed up and went along with my 11-year-old son Leon. I was full of fears about being last while he was hell bent on coming first! He was immediately hooked.
How often do you do parkrun?
I have done 34 parkruns so far. I’ve loved them all and finished all of them without collapsing. My son and I do parkrun every week in Ashton Court, Bristol. It’s a 2.5km climb and then the same again but downhill. Whenever we go away, the first thing we do is to see if there is a nearby parkrun. We have also done Killerton and Peterborough parkruns. No parkrun is the same.
Have your running times improved?
My very first parkrun time was 34 minutes in April 2013, and I have gradually chipped away at it and after a year, I’ve got it down to 28 minutes. I still use the 5K+ Speed podcast to improve my times. My son started off with the same time as me, and his best time is now 24 minutes. He powers way ahead of me. I’ve also started volunteering at my local parkrun, which is another way to get a running buzz.
Who do you run with?
I always do parkrun with Leon. I have introduced it to friends and family. I have also become ‘coach Juicyju’. I’ve been coaching four kids – the 'Juicy juniors' – including my daughter – through the C25K plan. They are currently on week 5 run 3, and the grand finale will be a parkrun. I intend to get them graduation medals.
Has running brought you and Leon closer?
When we started running, Leon was 11 years old and never spoke to me much about stuff going on with him. When we started running together he would open up as we had no interruptions and he wasn't attached to a computer or other electronic device. We enjoy one another’s company and we have discovered a shared love for running. We are so close now, and our conversations at home are mostly about running. We are drawing up our new training plan tonight and choosing new kit, ready for our holiday next week: a 5km run every day and a mile swim later in the day.
Is parkrun also a social event?
There are lots of people I now say hello to. A while ago, someone came up and said: “You and your lad really inspire me to keep going”, which was really nice. There is a girl about my son’s age who he desperately tries to beat every week. He hasn’t yet. I think he’s taken a shine to her as he always goes bright red when he sees her! Everyone meets after the run in the cafe, but we don’t often stay as I tend to swim after. If we do, we are always welcome.
How does parkrun keep you motivated?
I have quite a stressful job and part of my wind down at the weekend is waking up on a Saturday and thinking “hooray, it’s parkrun day”. My son always has his gear layed out the night before and is up early to get ready. I’m always anxious beforehand but the thought of improving my time, seeing the beauty of the park and being outdoors always wins! I love all the running stats that parkrun provides, it’s really useful. We love looking at the photos of the run (which are published online) and having a laugh at ourselves too.
What do you like about parkrun?
I like the fact that parkrun is always held on the same day and at the same time, which helps with planning and also helps you get into a routine, which is so important with exercise. I get a real buzz from taking part and being surrounded by other fellow runners and all the people cheering us on, being outdoors in beautiful and natural surroundings.
How active were you before starting C25K?
I swam fairly regularly but never ran. I had spent most of my life thinking runners were all a bunch of boring weirdos … How we change! I took up running because it was easy to fit it with my work as a community nurse in Devon which involved lots of travel. I felt that if I could walk out of my house and just run, and be back in 30 minutes it wouldn't encroach on my busy life and I could do it anywhere, anytime. I’ve even done a run in Devon, in between work commitments. I also realised I was a slob and needed a focus in life, something that gave me a sense of achievement.
Has running improved your health?
Running has changed me for the better in so many ways. I’ve lost 1.5 stone (9.5kg). My body shape has changed. At 43, I’m fitter, more toned and stronger than I’ve ever been. I have more energy and joie de vivre. Running has helped me find a way to cope in life. When I do a long run it clears my head, stabilises me and helps me see a way forward. The blog has been my support and I really enjoy posting about all my running experiences. Since graduating from C25K I’ve completed two half marathons and a 10k race. My goal now is to become an ultra runner.